Snippet of British History: Elected Monarchs?

Let’s Talk Opinion in conversation with State or Disorder

“Monarchs come with or without constitutions. Which one to go for depends entirely on your mood but more so on the monarch’s.” Monarchy for Beginners

Crown Jewels

Have Prime Ministers become elected monarchs?

Did you know that the before 1841 the appointment of a First Minister was based on monarchical favouritism? If he was parliament’s choice as well, would have rather accounted for a happy coincidence than an intended consensus.

Sir Robert Peel’s first prime-ministerial appointment, in 1834 was the last appointment made by a king against the wishes of Parliament. No other monarch attempted to go against Parliament in this matter since.

In 1841 the Tory party won the elections and Sir Robert Peel became PM again,  despite  the fact that Queen Victoria sympathised with the Whigs and personally disliked him.

In The Prime Minister as an elected monarch, Hinton argues that the prime minister has potentially more power than any monarch had in the past:

“The prime minister is really two persons in one, a king as well as the leader of the majority in the House of Commons. …He has inherited the prerogative power from a long line of kings who for centuries jealously guarded it and often exercised it, and he has joined to it the parliamentary power which the Houses of Parliament asserted for five or six centuries against the king’s prerogative.”

I believe he might be onto something there. Neither the electorate nor the Cabinet can check premier’s powers:

  • Cabinet ministers are appointed by the PM just as the king’s council used to be appointed by the king.
  • The constitution does not allow the people to change the powers of the PM but only the person who exercises them.
  • Any limitations set on the power of a PM are only “prudential ones” and comparable to the former limitations of monarchic power.

The doctrine of collective responsibility in today’s politics means collective obedience by the whole administration to the will of the man (or woman) at the apex of power.

Even if Elected Monarch may appear a somewhat oxymoronic term, in view of modern developments, it does appear that what we have in Britain today is an ‘Absolute Premiership’ – as Tony Benn put it – in which power is centralised to such a degree that government decisions have become the personal views of the PM rather than the collective views of the ministers.

However, it could be argued that a PM who can carry his colleagues with him, whilst in a position of strength, is only as powerful as they let him be. It is difficult to imagine one person alone pulling all levers, issuing edicts and shaping events. Perhaps what the PM is resembles more an arbiter of choice in government, rather than a lone decision-maker. So that the PM’s personal opinion would be truly important only in a situation where the Cabinet is indecisive. As Lord Asquith once said “the office of Prime Minister is what the holder chooses and is able to make of it.”

So, to return to my original question: are Prime Ministers today ‘elected monarchs’? Lets consider the evidence at hand.

  1. The premier has executive powers, a majority in Parliament and the prerogatives of monarchic power.
  2. The bodies that would check a monarch’s power are under his control.
  3. He is the one appointing ministers and taking the final decisions in policy making.
  4. The Prime Minister can even go to war without full government or indeed the electorate’s consent.
  5. A monarch who abused the powers invested in them risked to loose their head, a premier’s attempt to overstretch their powers risks to loose their government, which puts them in great advantage to the former.

It is important not to forget, however, that even the most resolute of Prime Ministers is only as powerful as their cabinet and parliament allows them to be and even an ‘elected monarch’ has to bring their government to a consensus, if they wish to perpetuate their power.

They might wish also to follow my fellow blogger’s final piece of advice: “If you fancy yourself to become the monarch, many have found reading Machiavelli’s The Prince worthwhile,” since “men are always wicked, unless you give them no alternative, but to be good” and any wanna-be monarch will have more than one “wicked” citizen attempt to derail their best laid of plans.


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8 thoughts on “Snippet of British History: Elected Monarchs?

      • I am very tempted to dissect your original comment and see what I can make of it. I am told that returning to definitions is always the best way to begin. So here it goes*:
        ‘Bob’s your uncle’ is an exclamation that is used when ‘everything is alright’ and the simple means of obtaining the successful result is explained.
        Despite its having been the subject of considerable research, no one is sure of its origin. As with all such mysteries there are plenty of suggestions, but I’ll limit things here to the most plausible three – the favourite, the second favourite and an outsider:

        1. Like many Victorian aristocrats, the 20th British Prime Minister didn’t lack for names and Viscount Cranborne’s name – Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, was as full as his beard. For our purposes here, we can cut that down to just ‘Robert’.

        Bob’s your uncle – Arthur Balfour’Bob’s your uncle’ is often said to derive from the supposed nepotism of Lord Salisbury, who appointed a favourite nephew, Arthur Balfour, to several political posts in the 1880s.

        2. A second interpretation has it that the phrase derives from the slang term ‘all is bob’, meaning ‘all is well’. That term is listed in Captain Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785:

        A shoplifter’s assistant, or one that receives and carries off stolen goods. All is bob; all is safe.
        The slang word ‘bob’, meaning ‘shoplifter’s assistant’, had been in circulation for some years at that time and is defined as such in Nathan Bailey’s Dictionary of Canting and Thieving Slang, 1721.

        3. The third potential source is the music hall. The earliest known example of the phrase in print is in the bill for a performance of a musical revue in Dundee called Bob’s Your Uncle, which appeared in the Scottish newspaper The Angus Evening Telegraph in June 1924.

        Bob’s your uncle – The expression also formed part of the lyrics of a song written by John P. Long, and published in 1931 – Follow Your Uncle Bob. The lyrics include:

        Bob’s your uncle
        Follow your Uncle Bob
        He knows what to do
        He’ll look after you

        Q: Does this imply that PMs being elected monarchs is a positive development, or at least not a detrimental one to the democratic process? 🙂


      • I thought it a good opportunity to look into the history of the expression, another chance for me to learn something new and share it of course with you and anyone lese who enjoys reading comments as well as posts.

    • It all depends on our view of human nature. I personally don’t agree with Machiavelli either on that. I’m closer to the idea that we are each a tabula rasa and then are “educated” into becoming social animals.

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